By James McCarten, The Canadian Press on January 6, 2021.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pandemonium erupted Wednesday on Capitol Hill as an angry wave of Donald Trump supporters overwhelmed police barricades, flooded into the chamber and forced lawmakers to flee the premises and staffers to take cover under their desks.
Outside, as police sirens echoed and helicopters pulsed overhead, thousands and thousands of others cheered and celebrated news of the breach, waving flags and firing flares from atop the Capitol balcony.
There were reports of shots being fired inside the Capitol and at least one person was taken to hospital.
Trump, who earlier vowed to a crowd outside the White House that he would never concede defeat in November’s presidential election, issued a tweet urging supporters to “stay peaceful.”
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump wrote, stopping short of asking protesters to vacate the federal legislative building.
“They are truly on the side of our Country.”
On the grounds outside the building, the mood was jubilant.
“This is not a violent insurrection,” said Nancy Murphy, who travelled from Saratoga, N.Y., to attend Wednesday’s protest and was front and centre when the clashes began.
“This is people who think they can pull a fast one and steal an election, and take our country away from us.”
New Hampshire resident Tom Monahan struggled to rinse the sting of pepper spray from his eyes as he described the moment when the chaos erupted.
“I was just trying to get a better look, be a part of history,” Monahan said as he frantically splashed water on his face.
“My mother and I went up the stairs, and we ended up getting way too close, going way too far. Next thing I know, it’s me and a whole bunch of police using spray and flash-bangs.”
President-elect Joe Biden, whose election win two months ago was supposed to be certified Wednesday, instead found himself addressing the nation and pleading for calm.
Even Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., felt compelled to issue a statement.
“We are following the developments on Capitol Hill very closely,” Hillman tweeted. “All Embassy staff are safe and accounted for. We call for calm during this time.”
In a radio interview, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Americas democratic institutions are strong and he hoped “everything will return to normal shortly.”
In a joint statement, congressional leaders Pelosi and Chuck Schumer called on Trump to demand that protesters leave the building immediately. Vice-President Mike Pence also urged the interlopers to withdraw.
“This attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated,” Pence said. “Those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
While Trump himself remained silent, White House spokesman Judd Deere eventually tweeted, “Go home. And go home in peace,” a statement he attributed to the president.
National Guard reinforcements were called in to help restore a sense of order, while D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed an overnight curfew beginning at 6 p.m. ET in an effort to disperse the crowds.
Wednesday’s tumult erupted as Congress was certifying the results of November’s presidential election, a process several House and Senate members have promised to oppose.
And they followed the president himself airing familiar grievances before that crowd of thousands outside the White House, a sea of Trump banners and American flags snapping in a bitter January wind.
“We will never concede,” Trump bellowed to lusty cheers earlier in the day. “We will never give up.”
What is normally a staid exercise in constitutional process began Wednesday with Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz formally objecting to the electors from their states.
A process that was expected to last long into the night is now in suspended animation – with Trump’s ongoing refusal to concede defeat now far more than just a falsehood-laced set of empty threats.
Adding to the tension was the shifting political landscape in Georgia, where Democrat Raphael Warnock was elected the state’s first Black senator and Jon Ossoff defeated Republican Sen. David Perdue.
Ironically, those Democratic victories have wrested control of the Senate away from the Republicans, a development that under normal circumstances would have provided a clearer path for Biden’s presidential agenda.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021.